Inside the entrance to Beyond the Haunted Puddle, the haunted house/immersive art installation now open at PORT, a glassy-eyed witch stirs a bubbling cauldron of human entrails — but that’s where the similarities to a classic haunted house end. Through a series of increasingly demented environments, including a truly nightmarish interlude at a purgatorial Department of Motor Vehicles counter, the installation knocks the viewer off balance in ways both visceral and cerebral.
“[We wondered] what could be scary, what makes it fun, what makes it contemporary?” director Xavier Juarez says. “Making an immersive world is this great opportunity for an artist.”
Produced by street artist You Go Girl and created in collaboration with a group of multidisciplinary artists including Juarez, Nina Nichols, Alanna Maureen Geare, Samuel Springstorm, Sarrah Danziger, Patrick Wolf and Joy Patterson, the house is loosely constructed around the imagined fate of two children who disappear into a 9th Ward "haunted puddle." It's not really a narrative experience; instead, one drifts through loosely connected nightmare-scapes such as a grubby, rundown living room and a disorienting white-and-silver fabric maze in which the walls seem to move ... possibly because you're not alone.
Beyond the usual jump scares and outbursts from the house’s “occupants,” expect to engage them in strange conversations about their yearnings. (In an unearthly-white room vaguely reminiscent of Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” video, a bereft android-thing sadly begged me to follow him on Tumblr.) There also are glimpses of genuinely upsetting things, like the man who springs from an overflowing toilet to introduce his (real) pet cockroaches.
Guests may refresh themselves before or after their voyage through the house with punch and beer from the event’s Plasm Bar. Some nights, including tonight (Fri., Oct. 21) feature after-hours performances by local bands. Young audiences are permitted during the 7 p.m. showing — Juarez says the house denizens dial back the creepiness for that show.
“It’s mainly language, and how intense people are talking and screaming,” Juarez says.
— Beyond the Haunted Puddle is open 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 20-23 and Oct. 28-31; admission $15, kids $10.
If you’re (blood)thirsty for more, here are some other haunted houses to check out in and around town.
• The House of Shock Horror Show — Probably the city’s best-known haunted house, it’s known for over-the-top gruesome scenes and clever plays off common phobias (they’re supposedly big on clowns, just when you thought New Orleans was blissfully exempt from the clown plague sweeping the nation.) Bands also play, and sideshow performers practice their hair-raising arts. Open Oct. 21–23 and Oct. 27–31; admission $30.• The Mortuary — Now in its 10th season, each year of this haunted house is designed around a specific storyline or theme. This year’s theme, “Reunion,” promises to take advantage of the fears “you conjure up in your own imagination,” and suggests an escape from ominous darkness … which makes sense, because the facility offers escape room games year-round. Open Oct. 20–23 and Oct. 26–31; admission $30,
• Bernie Baxter’s Traveling Sideshow — This haunted house is in a private residence in Algiers, and its theme is based on the tale of a murderous chef who caged and tortured her customers, then served their meat as a dinner special. (Gross.) According to the attraction’s website, the house itself is not child-friendly, but kids can trick-or-treat on the grounds on Halloween and the Saturday prior. Open Oct. 28, 29 and 31; admission free.
• The 13th Gate — Yeah, it’s in Baton Rouge, but it always pops up on national lists of “creepiest haunted houses,” and has scenes based on swamp-riddled Louisiana scenes, dripping catacombs and more. Also, it’s open every night through Halloween. Open Oct. 20–31; admission $25.